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Phillis Wheatley Peters: Overview

This guide is part of a project celebrating the anniversary year -- 2023 -- of Phillis Wheatley Peters's Poems. It is a joint project of UGA and Texas Christian University.

Who Was Phillis Wheatley Peters?

Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston from her African homeland in July 1761. Though only about seven or eight years old, she was transported with other captives aboard the ship Phillis as part of an ongoing push to make slavery central to the economies, politics, and daily life in North America. Purchased by a New England merchant, John Wheatley, and “given” to his wife Susanna, the young girl found herself far from her West African home, suddenly immersed in a foreign culture where--however benign the Wheatleys themselves may have viewed their relationship to the young girl--she was, in fact, enslaved. 

Though we cannot recover much of Phillis Wheatley’s personal or family history prior to what must have been a terrifying transatlantic journey, we do know reasons why she remarkably became, as a young adolescent, a celebrity author, first in her new “home” city of Boston, and, not long afterwards, internationally.

About the Project

This project honors Phillis Wheatley Peters and her legacies, and spotlights the learning power and the significance of literature in our lives. Through a partnership of the University of Georgia and Texas Christian University, this project also celebrates the efficacy of collaborative learning informed by a participatory vision of the humanities and the arts. Our codirectors, contributing team members, and many sponsoring groups and organizations have come together in shared learning throughout the 2023 anniversary year of Wheatley Peters’s Poems. Learn more at the project website.

2023 Events

May 31 or June 1, 2023

TCU Literacy Institute: DFW Writes Phillis Wheatley Peters

Time TBD; Texas Christian University, Registration Required

In-person workshop presented by Professor Carmen Kynard (Texas Christian University) and Sarah Ruffing Robbins (Texas Christian University). 

August 30, 2023

Reading Poetry by and Inspired by Phillis Wheatley Peters

5:30pm CT; Texas Christian University

In-person panel presentation. Presenters include: Professor Mona Narain (Texas Christian University), Kelly Franklin (Texas Christian University), Professor Linda K. Hughes (Texas Christian University), Professor Wendy Williams (Texas Christian University), Professor Sarah Ruffing Robbins (Texas Christian University), moderated by Professor Lorraine Sherley (Texas Christian University).

September 7, 2023

Poetic Legacies: Interpreting New Texts from Writers Inspired by Phillis Wheatley Peters

4:30 ET; 3:30 CT

Virtual or in-person presentation by author and professor drea brown (Texas State University), and author Alison Clarke; moderated by Professor Aruni Kashyap (University of Georgia).

Register for this event (Coming Soon).

September 20 and 27, 2023

Part I: Humanities Texas Webinar on Teaching Phillis Wheatley Peters (historical andliterary culture contexts; overview of major works)

Part II: Humanities Texas Webinar on Teaching PWP (representative close readings and poetic analyses)

5:00pm CT; 6:00pm ET

Webinar presented by Professor Sarah Ruffing Robbins (Texas Christian University), Professor Barbara McCaskill (University of Georgia), and Professor Mona Narain (Texas Christian University).

Register for this event (Coming Soon).

October 17, 2023

The Genius of Phillis Wheatley Peters: A Children's Literature and Family Literacy Panel

6:30pm ET; 5:30pm CT (60 mins)

Virtual or in-person panel presentation at Texas Christian University or the Athens/Clarke County Library in Georgia. Presenters: Joann Wood (literacy expert), Professor Brigitte Fielder (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and Professor Nicole Cooke (University of South Carolina).

Register for this event (Coming Soon).

October 17, 2023

Celebrating DWF Writes PWP

6:30pm CT (30 mins); Texas Christian University

In-person awards ceremony for DFW Writes Wheatley Peters contest. Presenters: Professor Carmen Kynard (Texas Christian University) and Professor Endia Lindo (Texas Christian University).

November 6, 2023

Dramatizing Phillis Wheatley Peters

7:00pm ET; University of Georgia

In-person staged reading and adaptation of Mary Church Terrell's 1932 "Historical Pageant-Play Based on the Life of Phyllis Wheatley." Hosted by Professor George Contini (University of Georgia) and Professor Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia).

Date and Time TBD

Honoring Wheatley Peters and Her Legacies: Reflecting Back and Imagining Future Work

Online scholarly roundtable with Professor Stacie McCormick (Texas Christian University), Professor Anne Frey (Texas Christian University), and Professor Britt Rusert (University of Massachusettes - Amherst).

Register for this event (Coming Soon).

Learn More


The Writings of Phillis Wheatley

This edition includes all of the known surviving writings of the poet Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784), and are accompanied by an introduction to her life and times, as well as extensive textual and explanatory notes.

Phillis Wheatley Peters: Biography of a Genius in Bondage

Author Vincent Carretta details Wheatley's origins, upbringing, and how she gained her freedom. Carretta also writes about the role Wheatley played in the production, marketing, and distribution of her writing.

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral

Published in London in 1773, this is Phillis Wheatley's first book of poetry.

The Age of Phillis

Level: High School. Imagines the life and times of Wheatley in verse.

Past Events 2023

February 16, 2023

University of Georgia Symposium on the Book

The Blood of Christians: Phillis Wheatley Peters and White Christianity

10am ET; 9am CT (90 mins)

Presented by Professor Kim Coles (University of Maryland) and co-convened by Professor Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia), Professor Miriam Jacobson (University of Georgia), and Librarian Anne Meyers DeVine (University of Georgia).


Printing Early Modern Race: A Rare Books Workshop

2pm ET; 1pm CT (90 mins)

Presented by Professor Kim Coles (University of Maryland), Professor David Diamond (University of Georgia), Professor Miriam Jacobson (University of Georgia), Professor Sujata Iyengar (University of Georgia), and Librarian Anne Meyers DeVine (University of Georgia).


March 22, 2023

Phillis Wheatley Peters in Material Memory

4pm ET; 3pm CT

Presented by American Antiquarian Society (AAS) archivists featuring Professor Sarah Robbins (Texas Christian University), Professor Barbara McCaskill (University of Georgia), Ashley Cataldo (AAS), and Elizabeth Watts Pope (AAS).

April 3, 2023

Recovering the Life of Phillis Wheatley Peters, 'A WONDER of the Age Indeed'"

4:30pm ET; 3:30 CT

A Book Talk by Professor Vincent Carretta in celebration of a new and revised edition of his book, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage.

April 4, 2023

Re-Reading a Life: Responding to Vincent Carretta's New Biography of Wheatley Peters

A Scholarly Roundtable

10am ET; 9am CT (90 minutes)

Featuring panelists Tara Bynum, University of Iowa, Keith Hughes, University of Edinburgh, George Elliott Clarke, University of Toronto, and Lenora Warren, Cornell University, and moderated by John Lowe, University of Georgia.

April 12, 2023

Phillis Wheatley Peters: The Power of Words and Literature’s Global Legacies for the Future

6pm CT (120 mins)

In-person lecture at Texas Christian University, presented by Professor Mona Narain (Texas Christian University) and Professor Sara Ruffing Robbins (Texas Christian University). Registration is required. Contact to register.

April 25, 2023

Race, Representation, and Self-Presentation in American Art

1pm ET; Georgia Museum of Art

In-person gallery tour, co-sponsored by UGA’s Interdisciplinary Modernism/s Workshop and the Georgia Museum of Art, led by Jeffrey Richmond-Moll (Curator of American Art at the Georgia Museum of Art). Upon arrival, guests should check in at the welcome desk in the museum lobby, where the tour will begin. Parking is available in the museum garage (90 Carlton Street) or the nearby Performing Arts Center parking deck.

April 26, 2023

Interdisciplinary Connections for Studying and Teaching Phillis Wheatley Peters -- Commentaries and Conversations

4pm CT (90 mins); Texas Christian University, Palko 130

In-person panel discussion presented by Professor Ariane Balizet (Girls' Studies - Texas Christian University), Professor Molly Weinburgh (Science Education - Texas Christian University), and Alonzo Smith (Religion and Spirituality Histories - Texas Christian University). 

Phillis Wheatley Peters Biographical Timeline


  • Born in Africa.


  • Captured and transported to America in the slave ship Phillis. Arrived in America on July 11.
  • Sold to John Wheatley from Boston, Massachusetts to work as a maid for his wife, Susanna.
  • Named Phillis, for the ship that brought her to America.


  • Phillis Wheatley was taught to read and write by Susanna and her daughter, Mary Wheatley.


  • Thought to be the year of Phillis Wheatley’s first writings, motivated by her religious education by Susanna and John.

  • Potential first writings include:

    • Stongest candidate: a four-line poem written on the last page of the 1773 diary of the Congregationalist minister, Jeremy Belknap. Belknap identifies the poem as “Phillis Wheatley’s first Effort— A.D. 1765.”

    • A letter to the Rev. Mr. Occom, the Indian Minister; the missing poem “On the Death of the Rev. Dr. Sewell, when Sick, 1765” included in her 1772 “Proposals.”


  • Phillis Wheatley wrote "An Address to the Atheist" and "An Address to the Deist."
  • Published her first poem, "On Messrs Hussey and Coffin" in the newspaper, Newport Mercury.


  • Phillis Wheatley wrote "To the King's Most Excellent Majesty" praising King George III for repealing the Stamp Act.
  • Phillis Wheatley wrote “On Being Brought from Africa to America”, the poem for which she is best known today.


  • Wheatley became known for her poetry after writing a tribute, "An Elegiac Poem On the Death of that celebrated Divine, and eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned Mr. George Whitefield," to George Whitefield, a popular evangelist and chaplain of Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon.


  • Phillis Wheatley baptized on August 18, 1771


  • Wheatley defended her authorship in a trial, and was supported through attestation of her authorship by seventeen men in Boston, including John Hancock, John Ervin, Thomas Hutchinson, and Andrew Oliver.


  • Wheatley traveled to London where she published her first book, "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral" containing 39 poems, and financed by Selina Hastings, the Countess of Huntingdon. The first edition of Wheatley's book showed an engraving of Wheatley by Scipio Moorhead, a slave of John Moorhead.
  • Wheatley traveled back to America due to Susanna Wheatley's illness.
  • Wheatley was manumitted, but chose to continue to live with the Wheatleys.


  • Susanna Wheatley died March 3, 1774.


  • Wheatley wrote the poem, "To His Excellency, George Washington," praising Washington's heroism and in support of the Revolutionary War.


  • George Washington invited Phillis Wheatley to his home for a private reading of her poem, and to thank her for writing it.


  • John Wheatley died.
  • Phillis Wheatley married John Peters, a free black man, with whom she had three children.


  • Phillis Wheatley and John Peters left Boston and disappeared from public view for several years.

  • Phillis Wheatley continued to write, with hope of publishing a second book. Her "Propoals" were never published, and few of her other writings were discovered between 1776-1784.


  • Wheatley Peters wrote "An Elegy, Sacred to the Memory of the Great Divine, the Reverend and the Learned Dr. Samuel Cooper." Cooper was a pastor in the Brattle Square Church and was a supporter of the revolution.
  • Wheatley Peters readvertised the 1779 proposal for her second book, using the name Phillis Wheatley rather than Phillis Peters.
  • John Peters was incarcerated for unpaid debts.
  • Phillis Wheatley Peters found work in a boarding house.
  • Wheatley Peters died on December 5, at age 31.


  • Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley book published posthumously. 


  • Letters of Phillis Wheatley book published posthumously.

Credits: Phillis Wheatley Historical Society; VIncent Caretta